This article about Family Reunification Supervisor Fayrouz Azer appeared in the Lansdale Lutheran, the newsletters of Trinity Lutheran Church
By Mark Staples
Fayrouz Azer, a native of Alexandria, Egypt who’s served in America as a Family Reunification Supervisor for 16 years, enjoys helping put families back together who have been torn apart.
The social work supervisor for Lutheran Children and Family Service, who teaches Sunday school at Trinity Lutheran Church, Lansdale, says reunifying families isn’t always easy, but once they are back together, the process proves successful about 80 per cent of the time.
Take, for example, the Bensalem, PA, couple with a small child referred to Azer by Bucks County Child and Youth Services, the agency from which Azer receives most of the cases she processes with the support of her staff.
“The day before Thanksgiving the Dad was cleaning his car when he received an eviction notice from his landlord that if he does not pay $2,500 in back rent by Dec. 3 he needs to leave his Section 8 apartment,” Azer says.
“The father works very hard as a cook and is paid $400 every two weeks,” Azer explains. “The family was homeless until recently qualifying for their housing. The mother has not been able to find a job, and so, short of funds, the family decided it was more important to buy food than to pay their rent.
“People in poverty often make bad choices,” Azer notes. “They succumb to short-term thinking. When I met with them I explained that they can get meals from sources like food banks and pantries if they are short of cash, but once they lose their Section 8 qualification they can never get it back.”
Fayrouz began scrambling creatively to try to rectify the crisis. She found funds to make a serious dent in the back rent from personal contacts she has with a local French languages club and the Towamencin Democratic Committee. She then visited the landlord and paid the bulk of the back rent, giving the landlord a promise of a date in the near future by when the balance would be paid by the family. Would the landlord agree to halt eviction proceedings under those terms? The landlord agreed. Meanwhile, LCFS staff is working diligently to find the mother a job, searching options such as employment in a grocery store. In cases like these the agency helps families learn budgeting skills, how to secure food stamps and get medical care for their children.
Azer has worked with many hundreds of families during her LCFS career and has been involved in supervising the reunification of 50-70 families during 2012. “I love my job, and I feel my faith helps me a great deal in the process,” Azer says. She actually began her LCFS work 20 years ago as a social worker for unaccompanied refugee minors and a foster care social worker. She and her colleagues were awarded a special citation of appreciation recently by Bucks County Child and Youth Services.
These days as she works to help “save” the future of families in the U.S., Fayrouz has an eye on the unrest in Egypt, where she grew up, and where her 82-year-old mother, Georgette, and her brother, a physician working with the United Nations, still live. Fayrouz and her children, Jason, 13, and Moira, 11, visit her Mom each year in Alexandria, a popular tourist attraction site for travelers eager to learn about ancient history and its artifacts. Fayrouz is married to Tarig Shoush, a software engineer. The couple married in 1998.
News accounts in recent weeks have described major political unrest in the streets of Cairo that threatened to derail a vote on an Islamist-backed draft constitution. In an attempt to quell the unrest, President Mohammed Morsi announced concessions, including rescinding a decree that temporarily elevated his decisions above judicial review. Morsi has also threatened to impose a form of martial law to secure the streets and polls for a vote on a referendum to approve a new constitution.
Despite all the unrest concerning emerging, restrictive policies of the Muslim Brotherhood-backed , regime in Egypt, Fayrouz is hopeful about the future of her original homeland.
“I grew up with many friends who are moderates in the Muslim community,” she says. “And I believe over time their ideas will prevail over more fundamental Islamic practices.” She also notes there are many secularists and Christians who oppose the direction the Muslim Brotherhood has been taking, and many Egyptians are concerned that extremist policies leading to further unrest will keep tourists from visiting the country. “Egypt depends on tourism,” she says. “Tourism of ancient sites is a leading revenue stream for the country. Many people voted for current president because they wanted change from the policies of President (Hosni) Mubarak and they believed the promises of the Muslim Brotherhood for the country’s future.”
How does a native Egyptian end up reunifying American families in the U.S.? Fayrouz decided she wanted to study engineering and earned a degree in that field in 1986 from the University of Alexandria. “I studied engineering,” she says with an impish smile “because people told me I couldn’t do it.”
During her student days, she and many others were mentored by a charismatic Jesuit Priest, Henri Boulad, who took young believers on summer service projects. She volunteered with Boulad five summers in the 1980s, one in a controversial Alexandria leper colony, and four working with the church in South Sudan.
“I find the Jesuits to be very progressive in their thinking, and I give them credit for my open-minded thinking on many issues,” Fayrouz says. During a two-year commitment she made to work with in Port Sudan with displaced Sudanese and Eritrean refugees, an American Sister of Mercy named Margaret Donahue told her if she wanted to work with people she should get a degree in social work, and Gwynedd Mercy College would be just the right place to pursue her studies. Donahue furnished a visa and $5,000 scholarship grant and Fayrouz was off to the U.S. “She has been like a mother to me,” Fayrouz says of Donahue. Upon graduating Fayrouz soon found her way to a career with LCFS.
“I really have come to admire the work and thinking of Lutherans,” Fayrouz says, “and I enjoy being a part of Trinity with my children very much.”
Of her daily work with her colleagues, Fayrouz says simply, “We help people in their pursuit of happiness. I never get tired of it.”